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Erb’s palsy: Common symptoms and causes

Erb's palsy symptoms and causes

Erb’s palsy is a common condition in newborns. It occurs when damage occurs to the nerves that control the arms and shoulders. These nerves are part of a network of nerves referred to as the brachial plexus, which links the shoulders and hands to the spinal cord. Their purpose is to control the neck, arms, and shoulder muscles. Let’s talk more about Erb’s palsy symptoms and causes.

Symptoms of Erb’s palsy:

Lack of movement

Hours after birth, a doctor or the mother can detect a lack of movement in the affected hand. If one hand is active and the other one is not moving, it may be Erbs Palsy. The condition can be mild or severe, depending on the intensity of the brachial plexus nerve damage.

Reduced grip strength

An arm with damaged brachial plexus is unable to grip objects. If you place a finger or any other item on the baby’s hand, most likely, they will grasp it and hold on well. So, if you notice one hand cannot grasp objects, and the other one is holding pretty well, it is an indication that the baby has Erb’s palsy.

The abnormal placing of the arm

Another noticeable sign of Erb’s palsy is abnormal positioning of the affected hand. If the baby’s arm hangs by the side or rotates inward, it means the brachial plexus nerves are affected.

Immediate signs and symptoms of Erb’s palsy

A baby with this condition exhibits signs immediately. That is because childbirth usually affects the brachial nerves.

Causes of Erb’s palsy:

Fetal macrosomia

Fetal macrosomia is a condition where some babies are born bigger than average, weighing over 9 lbs. If the condition isn’t detected earlier, a mother may have a difficult birth, which may cause injuries to the brachial plexus nerves.

Excessive pulling

Doctors usually pull the baby’s head and neck when assisting mothers who cannot push during childbirth. But, if they do it the wrong way, they can damage the brachial plexus nerves, which can cause Erb’s palsy and its associated symptoms.

Unusual fetal presentation

breech or feet-first baby is likely to have Erb’s palsy if the mother delivers through the birth canal.

In such conditions, doctors ensure they use all means possible to get the baby out, including twisting the baby’s head and arm. In so doing, they may exert pressure on the brachial plexus nerves and damage them.

Shoulder dystocia

This condition occurs when the baby’s head comes out and the shoulders get stuck in the birth canal. The doctor may damage the baby’s shoulder nerves, leading to Erb’s palsy in getting them out.

Birth assistance tools

The standard birth tools are vacuum extractors or obstetrical forceps. If a physician misuses those tools, they may cause pressure on the neck or shoulders and affect the brachial plexus nerves, which may cause Erby’s palsy.

Parents should be on the lookout for Erb’s palsy’s signs and symptoms and act immediately. This might not be something you’ve been told about yet, so it’s good to know this information, just in case.

You also likely want to learn more about pregnancy and your health too. It’s for the benefit of both you and the baby to come.

More about Erb’s palsy, symptoms, and causes

Most newborns recover from the condition without much treatment-only physical therapy. Try to prevent your newborn from Erb’s palsy by talking to your doctor and informing them of your previous difficult birth. That way they can take precautions.

Knowing Erb’s palsy symptoms and causes can help you know what to look for as a new parent. A doctor may order an ultrasound or another test to determine the injury. There’s a lot to learn but you’re taking steps to educate yourself, which is great.


Top photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

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